Lil' Sis finished RightStart™ Mathematics Level A (Second Edition)! Actually, she's been done with it for several weeks, but we've been busy getting to know our sweet new baby girl (Baby Sis)! We haven't posted any pictures lately, so I thought I'd share some with you now. This is a program that we have really enjoyed and appreciated, so I hope to write a more complete review of the program since we've finished a full level. I look forward to sharing that with you in the coming weeks, so be sure to keep an eye out for it!
If you all have been following my blog for awhile now, you might have noticed that we have two children: Big Sis, who turned 9 this month and is entering 4th grade, and Lil' Sis, who is 6 years old and starting 1st grade. Well, we are very happy to announce that we are anxiously expecting the birth of our third child - another girl - in August! Both my children were born after their due date, so I imagine we might be in for a wait of a couple of weeks yet, but this pregnancy has been so different than the first two, I guess anything could happen! I'm not sure what I'll be calling the three kiddos here on the blog (baby girl doesn't officially have a name yet in real life either... still trying to decide on that perfect fit), so you might see a revamp of the nicknames. For now, I might go with Baby Sis for the newest addition, but we'll see. Just a heads up, though, that you might see shorter or fewer blog posts in the coming weeks. However, if I happen to be breastfeeding and just sitting near the computer or my phone, I'll be doing my best to keep up with things. If you contact me and I don't respond right away, please be patient. :-)
Some Curriculum Choices
Because of the new little one and the subsequent adjustments that we'll be making to settle into our new adventure as a family of five (!), I've been heavily reconsidering and evaluating our curriculum and all educational materials in the home. I've begun to lean toward simplifying life in recent months and years and we downsized our home about a year and a half ago (we live in a 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath townhome!), so keeping things to the priorities around here is important.
Nonetheless, when it comes to homeschool stuff, I have a hard time parting with things because I feel like anything educational could have value and we might want access to it! Still, I've been driven to organize, streamline, prep, and eliminate the excess lately (maternal nesting, perhaps?), so I've been trying to choose our absolute favorites. The following are just a few of our selections. In case you're wondering, none of them are affiliate links (meaning I'm NOT making money off of them) - I'm sharing the links for those of you who might be curious to learn more about a few of the tools we use.
1) For Lil Sis: We'll continue with First Language Lessons and continue handwriting practice using Handwriting Without Tears to reinforce what she knows, as well as the cursive writing app I've blogged about in the past.
2) We'll be doing IEW - Institute for Excellence in Writing - for Big Sis' language arts this "school year" and that is anything but simplified, in my opinion. I am very much hoping that it is not too overwhelming as we move forward. I've found that simplicity in a curriculum is usually the best way to ensure we get it done, so curriculum this is out of character for our style. My only saving grace here might be that we'll be doing it with a Classical Conversations (co-op style) community, so we'll have support and accountability. Wish us luck! Big Sis will also continue practicing cursive through the app and some simple copywork.
1) For Lil Sis: RightStart Mathematics has been a fantastic addition to our homeschool lives. It DOES take up more time than many other programs might, but the return on our time investment has been worth it. We'll see how that goes after baby is here - especially in the toddler months & years - but we're going stick with it for now and hope we continue to reap the benefits that we've been seeing.
2) For Big Sis: I'd love for Big Sis to use RightStart as well, but think that two children in two different levels with a new addition in the family to adjust to, might be a bit much. So, for Big Sis, we'll be using CTCMath, which is an online curriculum program, at least for the first next few months. She is able to do it with little help or guidance from me and I feel like that will ensure she stays on track when I'm super tired and recovering after baby's birth. Daddy wants to do Khan Academy with her as well and they seem to bond over this father-daughter time, so I'm sure that will be a part of the weekly routine as well.
3) Just for fun, we'll be supplementing with Life of Fred books since both girls enjoy them, and Beast Academy workbooks (for Big Sis), when we need something for "car schooling", travel, or a break from routine.
Art & Music
Both girls continue to take violin lessons, which they love, plus a couple of note reading exercises and a monthly composer study.
We'll also continue using Artistic Pursuits to give us guidance on our art lessons. Artistic Pursuits was so simple to use that we actually implemented it into our weekly routines. That's a big deal for us! Unless the girls take outside art classes, it's been a struggle to "find the time" for art until we started using this program.
Home & Life Skills + PE
We don't have a curriculum for any of these areas, so if you have something you love that you use, please do let me know! That said, I don't feel a structured program is necessary for most homeschooling or educational pursuits, particularly when it comes to home and life skills. Nonetheless, if there's something out there that makes learning particularly easier or more fun, I love to try it out.
The girls want to learn more about cooking, sewing, and finance, so those will be areas we put particular focus on in the coming months. I plan to have Big & Lil Sis get much more involved in not just meal prep for breakfast and lunch, but also meal planning, budget, and shopping (especially Big Sis). I'm going to offer them some recipe books and have them make choices for weekly meals, we'll determine a budget they can spend to purchase supplies for those meals, and then I'll let them be heavily involved in shopping for the necessary ingredients (within budget, if possible). We'll be experimenting with this and I'll try to remember to report back on my blog on how it's going.
Health, Nutrition, & Physical Education are all part of our daily lives and something we discuss or do frequently. For PE, the girls often participate in a program at a local gym for homeschoolers that is offered once a week and they take regular swim lessons throughout the year. Plus we are always incorporating things like roller skating, hiking, running (there is a even track in our neighborhood), tennis, basketball, biking, and more!
Science, Social Studies, and History
There is a love of both science and social studies/history in our home, so we grab a list of the required "standards" and try to use them as a guide, but we generally follow the interests of my children when it comes to these subject areas. If there's something they "need" to know (our state requires testing at certain grades), then I'll introduce the topic or concept if we aren't naturally gravitating toward covering it already. Otherwise, we select educational materials as needed from the library, science kits, online resources, local field trips, co-ops & classes, etc. Right now, our curriculum in these two subjects is not structured. I am, however, open to possibilities, so please feel free to comment or email me to suggest something! That said, we DO listen to The Story of the World audio CDs (but we have the books too), they are learning a history timeline, and we love Sassafras Science Adventure books (and we like Elemental Science in general).
The above curriculum choices and approaches are not a complete view of what we do in our homeschool, nor are they set in stone - ever. We do, however, make an effort to stick with something for a decent amount of time before trying something new. Nonetheless, we feel that homeschooling should be at least partly child-led and open-ended to include the child's needs, wants, interests, and personal style. I've found that anything we do is far more effective if the kids are having fun and actually truly want to learn (i.e. that it's something they are interested in). I love the unschooling approach, but we found that a pure unschooling method doesn't fit our lives or needs at this time. Maybe one day, it will! And as contrary to unschooling as it may seem, many of the aspects of classical education seem very valuable as well. So in the end we just try to use what we find works from different styles of homeschooling and incorporate them as they best fit into our lives. Therefore, I'd say our homeschool lives are very eclectic and it works for us (so far)!
What works for you? What do you use? I'm always happy to hear about other homeschool families experiences and what they love to do or use in their homeschool and daily lives!
Math was not my favorite subject as a child. In fact, it's still not. While I was a great student in the eyes of the public school system, I never felt liked I "owned" math. I was never comfortable manipulating numbers or figuring things out beyond the equations that were similar enough to the examples provided in a proceeding lesson. I had tricks and algorithms to aid me in solving a problem, but I didn't understand why it worked or what to do if it didn't. I slid by. I survived math. Barely.
Now that I homeschool two beautifully inquisitive, fun-loving, adventurous, thoughtful learners (Big Sis & Lil' Sis), I desire to give them more when it comes to math. I want them to develop a strong foundation that helps make math a tool they wield easily and without reservation for any purpose they choose, rather than seeing math as a weight or obstacle to fight against, struggle through, or fear.
Every person is different and some minds seem to grasp mathematical concepts more easily than others, but I believe that plenty of practice and having a complete understanding can help anyone be, at least, comfortable with math. To develop that, I feel that it is necessary to approach the concepts with multiple methods, to see how math applies to various situations and life in general, to make connections rather than compartmentalize, and to seek the beauty and purpose in it all. But what does all that mean, or matter, to a young early elementary aged kid? That, I think, is where PLAY comes in. It is through play that they can begin to discover more about math.
There are numerous studies and articles that assert the benefits of play for children, so I won't go into them here. What I will say, however, is that play has been a major factor in how well my children learn and how much they retain. Any time we make a game out of a new topic or concept, they remember more. And anytime they learn something new that they are interested in, they use that new idea, concept, or fact in their free play.
Math is no different. The more fun we make it for my kids, the more they grow in their math skills. I used to think worksheets were a necessity when doing math, even in the early years. I thought that was the only way. But not any more.
Amazingly, despite doing very few worksheets over the last six months, Lil' Sis, who has technically only recently finished kindergarten, has blossomed in her core understanding of math concepts. She still writes her numbers backward fairly frequently, but she is confident in basic math skills and has demonstrated the ability to apply that skill in various situations - not just on paper. I attribute this to having had a lot of hands on practice, including math play and math games.
We are constantly finding new ways to incorporate pretend play, dancing, singing, being outdoors, games, crafts, and creativity into our homeschool days (and everyday life too)! Of course, Pinterest is a great tool for ideas. And there are lots of games that use numbers too. But even with all that, it is often our spontaneous ideas that lead to some of my daughter's favorite learning moments, in math or any other subject.
Lil' Sis has been using RightStart Math, Level A for about six months now. The program utilizes a lot of manipulatives and hands on materials, as well as lots of games (mostly card games). There hasn't been a game with RightStart that she hasn't liked. Some are clearly her favorite and she asks to play them again and again, while others are fun, I think, mostly because of the novelty of them (they are a new way to approach a math concept, but less interesting after playing them a few times). I value the low workbook use and high frequency of manipulative use and/or games, even if it does take more time to play the game or demonstrate a concept than to just fill out a workbook page.
But even with all the games included in RightStart, we are constantly finding even more ways to play. The manipulatives and cards seem to inspire my daughter with creative ideas. She'll often take a lesson concept we covered recently and use them in her pretend play in some fashion. Sometimes I don't want to take the time to play the math games and am tempted to skip them to save time. Other times, I don't want to join in with Lil' Sis in her pretend play because I have so many other things on my to-do list that need to be accomplished. But I have no doubt that it is those very games and moments of time spent playing with my daughter that she has gained the most - and so have I.
We recently explored 3D shapes and shadows with Lil' Sis as part of her RightStart Mathematics Level A program. I wanted to share a quick glimpse into one of her lessons because it's an example of how this curriculum is hands-on and fun for my daughter. We did this lesson at night, after dinner (yay for homeschooling flexibility!) so that we could take advantage of it being darker and better for working with flashlights and shadows. She asked if she could stay up late in order to do more math... and we did!
RightStart is completely comprehensive, in my opinion, as a math curriculum. It covers more than any other program we've tried so far, and does so very thoroughly. That said, it has also been a starting point for us to explore more about many of the math concepts presented. Somehow, we often find ourselves inspired to use what she's learned in many other creative ways beyond what is in the book. It's not that we need to do so, but that she wants to! She loves learning math, so we end up on little adventures and educational pretend play during or after a lesson. Sometimes it is simply more practice on a math concept, while other times it leads us into other subjects too!
Let me just say that I don't consider myself to be a creative person... at least not more than average (and quite possibly less so). I don't plan ahead for these extra things in conjunction with a lesson. They just... happen. Easily. Often times, it's Lil' Sis that takes the lead. Other times, it's me, Big Sis, or in the case of the after-dinner math activity, even daddy! With the shapes lesson pictured here, we also explored and reviewed science, astronomy, and art as an easy, spontaneous extension of the lesson. How cool is that!?
We started with a variety of activities using the 3D shape blocks. Noting things like roundness, edges, and grouping into categories. It is, by the way, really nice to have these in wooden form. It lends so much to the experience to have the weight and sturdiness.
We then used the flashlight and studied the different possibilities of shadows that each shape made. Later, we took a moment to trace the shadows too. It was fun to watch Lil' Sis discover that the cone could have both a triangle and a circle shadow, while a cylinder made a circle and a rectangle. This discovery being made on her own is, I think, what will help her remember better and what makes this more fun than a lecture or video lesson about the topic.
Lil' Sis made the observation that the sphere was like the moon. This is when daddy came over and spent some time showing both girls all about how the sun, moon, and earth interact with a nice astronomy lesson! ;-)
After that, the girls wanted to see what type of pictures they could make using traced shadows of each shape, which allowed them to think even more about the traits and features of each one. They made a soda bottle and a farm house, adding details after using the shape-shadows as the outlines. Totally their idea, but I went with it, particularly because it tied in nicely with a recent art lesson we did about finding shapes in everyday objects.
Of course, the evening would not have been complete without adding in some tracing of the girls' profiles too!
Some of Lil' Sis' favorite RightStart Mathematics activities this month were learning more about doubles with the math balance, reflections, and showing place value and quantities in different ways.
The red plastic tool in the pic above showed the reflection of the design on the geoboard. We extended this activity by writing words on paper and seeing their reflection in the mirrror, as well as drawing simple designs on paper and then drawing their reflections on the opposite side of the paper. Big Sis enjoyed joining us for this activity too. She couldn't resist the combo of math and art! ;-)
She enjoyed the place value and quantity lessons and designed a creative play activity that allowed us to get even more practice in, in a way she felt was just a game and fun playtime. I love it when that happens (as it often does for us with this math program)!
Lil' Sis decided to imagine the tiles were cookies and the abacus and place value cards showed her inventory - how many she had available - at her bakery. So she sold Big Sis and I some cookies and we played with number values, more and less, paid with place value cards, and more! Lots of extra practice!
There are many different styles of homeschooling, thousands of opinions on what is best, and a myriad of curriculum programs and educational tools available. This can be a blessing because it makes it possible to find something that suits nearly any child's learning style and parent's preferences, but it can be an overwhelming challenge for some families to wade through it all and find the best fit for their family. To complicate matters, what works for one family or one child, might not work for another. So while someone might say they love a certain curriculum or homeschooling style, another person might say they hated it, or just couldn't make it work well for their situation. Nonetheless, it is quite natural to want to know works for other people and what they would recommend. Finding out what others use can be a good starting point for those new to homeschooling and yet also be interesting to experienced homeschool families that are just wondering what else is out there that they might enjoy.
For our family, homeschooling is an ever evolving and dynamic experience. We have tried a variety of methods, but have settled into an eclectic approach - using what works for our kids from different sources, styles, and curriculum. Sometimes we even throw in a period of unschooling or some project-based homeschooling as well! We try to keep things flexible, have an open mind, and go with the flow. (Which is easier said than done for this plan-ahead, prep, and research-loving mama!)
Here are some of the primary curriculum materials and educational tools that we are using this school year. It might seem like a lot, but we don't use all of it each day. Some things are supplemental, others were requested by our kids, and some are for specific projects or times of interest.
1) Our kindergartener currently uses RightStart Mathematics by Activities for Learning, Inc. She started Level A, Second Edition, and the associated RS2 math set (the manipulatives and games) in January. We are loving it! Her sister even joins in just for fun. One of my favorite things about the program is how little it requires Lil' Sis to complete worksheets, yet there is still a lot of learning happening. Of all the different math programs we've looked into or tried over the years, this one is certainly among the most - if not the most - hands on. We also enjoy the variety, the way it approaches a concept from more than one way of thinking/seeing, and the math games! While my oldest uses McRuffy right now, we will very likely be switching her over to RightStart next!
2) Our 3rd grader is finishing up McGruffy Color Math. This is another great program, but it does have it's flaws. Just today, we found that the teacher's manual had yet another editing error where the answer shown was incorrect. This is not the first time we found an error. We find typos and mistakes on the answer keys rather frequently. Luckily, the math is easy enough that I recognize the problem and know the right answer, but it's still frustrating to pay for a program and see it has so many details out of place. We do like the attractive, simple, quick, color worksheet pages.
3) Dreambox Learning is a useful online math software that we use as a supplement. It is also perfect to use in place of our normal math programs on rough days (such as when someone is sick), vacation, or when they need a different perspective or additional math practice. I am particularly fond of how it adapts to the child's skill level and tracks which standards have been met as they go.
4) Both kids had fun playing the Prodigy Math Game, but haven't been doing it as much lately. It's good mainly for extra practice. It really doesn't teach math, but simply provides a fun way to get in some repetition and review. It is somewhat similar to a Pokemon game, wherein the student collects critters and uses them to battle others, all the while answering math questions along the way in order to successfully strike their opponent.
5) Khan Academy is a favorite supplement that my husband does with the kids when they are struggling with a math concept or when they just want a challenge. We love that it's free!
1) Our kindergartener (Lil Sis) is going through level 1 of First Language Lessons. We have the older version of the book, which combines levels 1 & 2 (linked above), but they have a newer edition that has the levels in separate books too. She's done this with big sister awhile ago, but now we do it just for her to reinforce what she's learned in the past just by hanging around when Big Sis did it.
2) All About Reading is Lil' Sis' main reading program and we love it! The All About Learning Press company has been fantastic, in our experience. The books/curriculum are well written, beautifully illustrated, and quite clear and professional. It's simple, straight-forward, and takes things one step at a time. I did not care as much for the Pre-Reading program, but my kids had fun with the crafts and other families may love it for their preschooler. I think, for us, we were already a little past that which is taught in the majority of the Pre-Reading level, which is why it wasn't a good fit.
3) Big Sis uses All About Spelling and it works well for her. It's her least favorite subject, but it's effective, as long as we are consistent. If we fail to keep up with spelling regularly (a few times a week), we have to go back and review prior steps [lessons] and she back slides in her progress. However, as mentioned above, I think All About Learning Press is a great company with well-made products.
4) Reading Eggs is a supplemental reading tool we have on the iPad that the girls both ask to use/play on their own. It's great for extra practice. We didn't like it much on our first try a couple of years ago, but came back around to trying it again and it stuck this time. Reading Eggspress is the next level up and includes comprehension questions as well.
5) We also occasionally use Achieve3000 as a supplement. It's not a favorite of mine or my 3rd grader, but we do find it useful in preparation for the standardized test that she is required to take this year, in accordance with Hawaii homeschooling law.
6) Thanks to the kind folks at The Old Schoolhouse and the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we've been enjoying a membership to SchoolhouseTeachers.com. As part of that, we've been using the Daily Writing prompts from Sharon Watson a few days a week and my daughter really enjoys writing in her daily journal as a result. Of course, this is a supplement, but it helps us squeeze in a little more writing!
Keep an eye out for my next post about our curriculum choices and find out what else we use in our homeschool!
We're off to a good start! If you've been following my blog, you probably remember that we received RightStart Mathematics Level A (the Second Edition) near Christmas. We began using it with Lil' Sis (our kindergartener) this month. So far, we love it!
RightStart generously provided this program for us to use in return for our honest and sincere review and feedback. They did not ask nor require that I post a written review at this point, but we've been rather excited about it and I couldn't wait to share! The opinions and statements herein are entirely my own or that of my family. (I have NOT been financially compensated and am not an affiliate with Activities for Learning - the makers of Right Start Mathematics. The links in this post are NOT affiliate links.)
We've only been using RightStart for a few weeks so far and already there is so much I like about it! Plus, just yesterday, Lil' Sis declared that math is now her favorite subject! Yay! We have flipped through the entire level, looked over all the great manipulatives, and completed the first 20 lessons thus far. Our first impressions of the program are:
1. RightStart Math is fun! We had been using a good math program previously and my daughter enjoyed it, but so far, RightStart has her asking for more, smiling more, getting more excited, practicing math more without prompting, and saying math is more fun. There are songs, rhymes, multiple angles to grasping a concept, hands-on activities, and games (albeit very simple games so far). As if that weren't enough, it has inspired us with even more fun ideas of our own! For example, when the book discussed the terms "left" and "right", we decided to listen to the Hokey Pokey song and dance it out! When the book suggested using musical terms like Do Re Mi for early pattern labeling, we sat down that evening to watch The Sound of Music! (The girls spent a lot of time on subsequent days labeling every pattern we came across with the Do Re Mi song notes.)
2. The Lessons book is clear and well written. [This is essentially the teacher's guide.] Among the variety of homeschool materials we've tried and used, I've found relatively few that explain things clearly and professionally, aren't overwhelming, were edited properly, are well laid-out, are easy to follow, and have just enough background on the how and why of the program. I am loving the "explanations" column found in the second edition! It is in this space that the author includes additional thoughts, background info, important details, and side notes. It has helped me feel confident in what, how, and why I'm teaching my daughter the way things are shown in the lessons. It has boosted my faith in what we're doing and I don't feel as much like I'm blindly trusting there is rhyme and reason to a program, as I've felt with other things. Additionally, had it not been for this explanations column, I might have skipped over some things or just wondered why certain things mattered in the lesson. I also like that these explanations are not mixed in with the lesson itself, since that would likely interrupt my flow when teaching.
3. Few worksheets & plenty of learning! Among the math programs we've tried or used over the years, this one has the least worksheets (at least in Level A). This probably connects back to my first point about the program being more fun for Lil' Sis. Now, don't get me wrong, my daughters actually like worksheets and enjoy them... as long as there aren't too many or they aren't too long. I think the minimal number of worksheets in RightStart's Level A will help maintain this enjoyment for Lil' Sis and not crush it with the weight of too much writing. There is a student workbook for this program which does have worksheets for practice of various concepts, but it also has a good balance with hands-on learning as well. And at least for kindergarten and early elementary grades, I personally feel that the active, hands-on learning is very valuable. I prefer to limit desk work when possible. If, at some point, I do feel more written work is needed, there are free worksheet generators that I can utilize online to supplement. I haven't felt that has been necessary yet though.
4. It uses many angles to teach! No, I'm not talking about geometry here - at least, not yet. RightStart Math Level A seems to take the approach of teaching one concept from multiple approaches, utilizing the various senses, and challenging the child to understand and/or see the concept in more than one application. For example, even with something as simple as number and quantity recognition, they might have the child use tally sticks, colored tiles, the abacus, their fingers, and dot cards to see how the number appears in different ways. Then, the parent will clap that number of times, allowing the child to hear the quantity as well. They also incorporate a silly song and book. In other words, the child is experiencing the quantity, not just memorizing a symbol or learning to count. It might sound like this complicates something simple, but I feel it is, instead, solidifying the knowledge in a way that gives it more dimensions.
As something of a side note, I also want to say that the representatives I've had contact with at RightStart have been so helpful, kind, and genuine that I have gained respect for the company and their efforts. My initial impression is that they truly care about their products and the quality of their program.
Any negatives? I really don't have anything negative to say about our experience thus far, except, perhaps, that we do miss the colorful style of our old workbook. Okay... more accurately, I should say that I miss the colors. Lil' Sis hasn't seemed to notice and maybe that is because there are plenty of colorful manipulatives to keep her attention instead.
So that's it for now! I will continue to share our experience with RightStart Mathematics as we use it over the coming months. Follow my blog and Facebook page to see if our opinion of the program changes or stays the same and to see what other fun and interesting things we find as we go!
We got an early Christmas present! Sort of. It wasn't really intended to be a holiday present, but it arrived today and the girls were so excited about it, you'd think it was an actual Christmas gift!
For years, I've thought about trying RightStart Mathematics. I'd read great things about it when Big Sis (my oldest daughter) was going into Kindergarten and it was among my top three choices for our homeschool math curriculum, but we ended up selecting a different program at the time. Nevertheless, the curiosity about RightStart has always lingered in my mind. So while we like the math program we have been using for the last few years, I am happy to report that we are about to embark on a new math adventure with RightStart! Yipee!
This curriculum was sent to me for review purposes and I will share my genuine and sincere feedback as we use it. I'm eager to incorporate it into our daily learning and I'm not the only one. Both my girls opened the box and squealed with excitement when they saw all the manipulatives, games, and hands-on material that will be used. Despite the fact that it was evening already, they were begging to get started right away! Even though Big Sis is in 3rd grade and we only received Level A (the beginning level), it looked so enticing and fun that she wanted to do it too. I had to inform her that it is primarily for Lil Sis, but if we like it enough, we will consider it for her future math program as well. Then again, I'm not sure if she'll be able to wait that long. While we were unpacking the box, she kept saying, "I want to do this too!" and "Can I please do some kindergarten math with Lil Sis tomorrow?" Sure she can! It can't hurt to do some review - especially if it's fun and her idea! And who knows? Maybe she'll learn something new or expand on her knowledge since this is a new (to us) curriculum. Check back with my blog in January and I'll let you know how it's going!
Note: While I did receive this product at no charge in return for fair and honest usage and reviews, I am not an affiliate with RightStart Math (i.e. I do NOT get paid a commission if you click on their links on my blog). All opinions and views expressed on this product are and will be my own or that of my family.
I'm a homeschooling mom of two, enjoying our time in Hawaii and hoping to share some of that experience with you, including ideas, reviews, resources, and information.